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Celebrating Commonwealth Day

UNITY: Commonwealth leaders came together at the last meeting in Malta in 2015 to discuss global issues such as climate change

THE COMMONWEALTH is one of the world’s oldest political association of states.

It is a family of 53 nations which spans five continents and includes some of the largest and smallest nations in the world. Today (Mar 12), people in Commonwealth countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, the Pacific and Europe will observe Commonwealth Day.

The day will see a host of faith and civic gatherings, debates, school assemblies, flag raising ceremonies, street parties and fashion shows, which will all aim to celebrate the diversity, unity and values that define the Commonwealth.

In London, the Head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II, will attend a multi- cultural, multi-faith service at Westminster Abbey with performances from choirs, dancers and musicians.

MULTICULTURAL

It is during the event that the Queen’s special Commonwealth Day message will be delivered. There will also be online statements from Secretary- General The Rt Honorable Patricia Scotland QC as well as leading global figures about the importance of the family of nations that links the govern- ments, people and institutions of 53 countries.

Yet despite the anticipation about the event there are many observers for whom the Commonwealth remains a mystery. The organisation includes almost a third (2.4 billion) of the world’s population among its membership, bringing together people of many ethnic backgrounds, faiths, and languages.

It is celebrated every four years through the Commonwealth Games. The modern Commonwealth has its roots in the 19th Century, when many of the countries that form it were colonised by Britain and became part of its empire.

These nations were either ruled directly or indirectly by the British Empire.
It was following India and Pakistan’s independence from Britain in 1947 that the Commonwealth as we know it today began to take shape.

As many of its members, such as the African and Caribbean nations, gained inde- pendence from the motherland, a new constitutional definition of their relationship with each other had to be found.

The Commonwealth was updated in 1949 when the association as we know it today came into being. It dropped the word British from its name, the allegiance to the crown from its statute, and became a receptacle for decolonised nations.

Queen Elizabeth II is the ceremonial Head of The Commonwealth, despite no longer ruling as head of state over many of the member countries.

Since then, independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined The Commonwealth. The two countries to have joined The Commonwealth most recently – Rwanda and Mozambique – have no historical ties to the British Empire.

Critics have claimed that it is an out-dated remnant of the British Empire. However, to its members it is a crucially important organisation that is in the business of promoting democracy, good government, human rights, and economic development.

Membership is based on free and equal voluntary co-operation. While not having some of the formal structures of the United Nations for example, the Commonwealth has nevertheless played an influential role on the world stage in recent years.

It was a focus of the campaign against apartheid. South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961, and rejoined only after the end of apartheid in 1994.

In 1971 it established a formal ‘code of ethics’, which saw Commonwealth countries pledge to improve human rights and work to achieve racial and War the organisation expanded its mission statement.

The Commonwealth Secretariat, established in 1965, supports member countries to achieve development, democ- racy and peace, providing a voice for small and vulnerable states and helping to champion young people.

Their work helps to strengthen governance, build inclusive institutions and inclusive institutions and promote justice and human rights and to grow economies, boost trade, empower young people, and address threats such as climate change, debt and inequality.

At the 1991 Heads of Government meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, the promotion of democracy and good government were added to the list of Commonwealth principles.

This year’s Commonwealth Day will precede the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be held next month in London. During the event the leaders of all its member countries will meet to address key global challenges and agree how to work together for the welfare and common good of its citizens.

LEADERSHIP

In a new development, Prince Harry will take on an official leadership role with the Commonwealth in a bid to attract new generations to the organisation.

In an effort to cement the monarchy’s ties to the member nations – the prince is expected to formally accept a new role at the meeting in London, which will run from April 16 to 20. Both Commonwealth Day and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting have the shared theme of ‘Towards a Common Future’.

The theme hopes to create and sustain a Commonwealth that is mutually respectful, resilient, peaceful and prosperous and that cherishes equality, diversity and shared values economic justice.

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